Anatomy of the Party of Power

More than anything else, Vladimir Putin understands power: how to get it; how to consolidate it. His predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, knew how to seize power but not how to consolidate it, which partly explains why power seeped away throughout his presidency. President Putin's success, however, has bred its own problem: he consolidated power at the center so well that opposition is brewing in Russia's regions.

Yeltsin's biggest failing was in not creating a viable, non-ideological party - a "party of power" - to buttress his regime. He tried to do so in 1995, but the Chechen War drove Russia's democrats away from him. Moreover, his efforts here were amazingly clumsy.

Yeltsin once spoke about his scheme to link two centrists. With "Ivan Rybkin (then Duma's speaker)," Yelstin said on TV, "leading the left flank, and Viktor Chernomyrdin (then prime minister) leading the right, we will encircle everyone." But by linking both parties to his very unpopular self, Yeltsin damaged both.

Perhaps if both wings had united, that single party would have appeared as an unbeatable juggernaut. Such unity, however, was impossible, for an obvious Russian reason: the faction leaders hated each other too much to get together, even for their own good.